WPF: Another Alarming Achievement Gap

By John Forester | March 19, 2019

Over the past year, the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding and Governor Tony Evers’ proposed 2019-21 budget have given considerable attention to English Learners and the state’s role in ensuring they have equitable and adequate resources. In their most recent newsletter, the Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) provides a brief background on ELs in Wisconsin – academic programming, achievement and funding.  Check it out here.

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Evers’ Budget Would Allow Districts to Rehire Retired Teachers

By John Forester | March 18, 2019

From WisPolitics.com . . .

Years ago, when the Iola-Scandinavia School District would post an elementary teaching job, it’d get several hundred applicants. 

Administrator Ray Przekurat says that’s now down to 30 or 40. 

For a high school social studies teacher, it’d be 60 to 80. Now it’s 10. For science, 20 to 25, now maybe five. 

And for specialty areas such as Spanish or tech ed, “You’re lucky to get a candidate,” he said. 

So that’s why he’s backing a provision in Gov. Tony Evers’ budget that would allow districts to rehire retired teachers, who could continue to collect their pensions while earning a new salary. 

The provision would reverse a 2013 change Republicans pushed through to address so-called “double dipping” by public employees. It also would follow a recommendation from a Blue Ribbon Commission on Education Funding, which urged the change to help school districts address a shortage of teachers. 

Sen. Luther Olsen, who co-chaired the commission, said he supports the idea but would rather take it up outside the budget. 

But GOP colleague Duey Stroebel, who sponsored a 2013 bill that banned retirees from receiving their pensions if they took another government job at more than half-time, said he would oppose including the measure in the budget or as a standalone bill. 

“When you’re not retired anymore, you shouldn’t be collecting your retirement benefit,” said Stroebel, R-Saukville. 

Republicans included the change in the 2013-15 state budget, barring retired public employees from claiming a pension if they are rehired and then work at least two-thirds full-time hours. That budget also included a provision requiring a break in service of at least 75 days before a retiree could be rehired, rather than the old 30 days. 

The Evers proposal would prohibit teachers from having an agreement in place when they retire to come back and work for the district. Also, their pension payments couldn’t increase due to the salary they earned while working again. But the break in service would go back down to 30 days. 

Przekurat said the change to the break in service is particularly important because school district contracts run through July 1. Requiring 75 days means a retiree couldn’t come back until mid-September after school has already started. 

He added the struggle to find teachers is particularly pronounced in rural areas for a number of reasons, including the starting salaries his district can offer compared to those in more urban areas. 

When the district posted a high school science teaching position last summer, it got zero applications, Przekurat said. It then used a search service that led to the hiring of Andrew Schefelker, who was killed in last month’s chain-reaction car crash on I-41. 

Przekurat said two retired teachers and two recent graduates who had just finished their student teaching applied for the job after it was recently posted, and one of the new grads has now been hired. 

He said the district is also looking to increase its starting salary, which was boosted two years ago to $36,250. With neighboring districts in the range of $38,000 to $40,000 and being a rural district, he said, it has made it more of a challenge to find applicants. 

“Just the overall decrease of candidates in teacher education programs is really hurting the whole state,” he said. 

According to the Department of Public Instruction, 12,323 people entered a Wisconsin teaching program in 2010, but there were just 7,956 in 2016, a drop of 35 percent. Likewise, the number of people completing the programs has dipped significantly with 3,426 in 2016, compared to 4,749 in 2010. 

The department’s slide show on the issue shows 5,031 teachers left the profession in the 2016-17 school year with 3,426 new teachers coming in, a net loss of 1,605. 

The agency also uses data on emergency licenses as its best gauge of teacher shortages, a spokeswoman said. That’s because districts can only seek them if they can’t find a fully licensed candidate to fill a job. 

There were 2,248 emergency licenses issued for the 2017-18 school year, compared to 1,126 in 2012-13. 

Some have speculated that fewer people have been going into teaching in Wisconsin since Republicans pushed through Act 10 in 2011. But Wisconsin is not alone in the crunch for teachers as there has been a drop nationally in the number of students majoring in education, along with those already in the classroom leaving the profession for other fields that pay better. 

Olsen, who voted for the 2013 change as a member of the Finance Committee, said part of the impetus behind it was the belief that people were being prevented from getting jobs because retirees were filling them. 

Now, he says the “world has changed in six years,” and it’s clear school districts are struggling to find employees. 

Members of the blue ribbon commission is now considering what bills to introduce, and Olsen said he’s hoping the change for teachers is part of the mix. 

“It’s not that they’re doing it and keeping people away from these jobs. It’s just there’s nobody to take them,” Olsen said. 

But Stroebel, a fellow member of the Finance Committee, worried about the impact on the state’s retirement fund of relying on employees who aren’t contributing to the system. 

Wisconsin has one of the only fully funded public pensions in the country, according to the state of Wisconsin Investment Board. SWIB announced in January the Core Fund, the larger of the two trust funds that cover pension payments, had assets of more than $93 billion to end 2018. The Variable Fund, the smaller of the two and a stock-only fund, had more than $7 billion in assets. 

Still, Stroebel argued if retirees are rehired and allowed to collect their pension, as under Evers’ proposal, they wouldn’t be contributing to the pension fund. That, he added, would mean there would be an additional burden on other public employees to keep the fund healthy. 

He said schools need to be more creative to in looking at ways to fill jobs. 

Some schools have cited high-demand subjects such as science as among the hardest to fill. But Strobel said they could look at bringing back retirees at less than the two-thirds cut off to teach those classes. 

According to the Department of Employee Trust Funds, there were 4,407 retirees who were rehired to public jobs in 2018. Of those, 55.7 percent were teachers. The vast majority worked less than two-thirds of full-time hours, allowing them to continue collecting their pensions. 

“It’s a market-driven thing as it should be,” Stroebel said. 

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GOP Says Evers’ Special Ed Boost Won’t Happen

By John Forester | March 13, 2019

Check out the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

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BoardmanClark: DOL Releases New Overtime Rules

By John Forester | March 12, 2019

From The Legal Side…

BoardmanClark recently published this School Law FYI regarding the U.S. Department of Labor’s release of its proposed overtime rule. The SAA regularly receives these updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of BoardmanClark.

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Suggestions for Budget Advocacy

By John Forester | March 11, 2019

I would like to thank all those SAA members that have already begun conversations with their legislators regarding the governor’s budget recommendations.  Our success during this state budget process will be determined by your relationships with your legislators and your willingness to contact your legislators repeatedly throughout the long budget process.

While this post is not a full-blown “legislative alert” (that will come a little later) on the state budget, I do want to provide you with some suggestions for your initial budget conversations with your legislators.

In your communications, I suggest you cover the following:

  1. Invite your legislators to your school(s).  Use the opportunity to show them some of the great educational opportunities afforded to the children in your district.  Show them what learning looks like today in your district.
  2. Walk through your revenue cap worksheets with your legislators.
  3. Express your strong support for at least a $200/pupil general revenue increase in each year of the biennium.  Explain the importance of these increases in human and in fiscal terms.  In particular, emphasize the impact on educational opportunities for the kids you serve.
  4. In my meetings this past week, it became clear that many inside the Capitol do not understand special education funding.  It is vitally important that you reach out and educate your legislators on the following:
    • Wisconsin special education categorical aid is distributed on a cost-reimbursement model; our current reimbursement rate is about 25% on prior year costs.
    • Wisconsin identifies students for special education at about the national average.
    • There is no incentive to “over-identify” students for special education.
    • Explain your district’s fund 10 to fund 27 transfer, as well as the internal friction that transfer can generate.
    • Express your strong support for the governor’s proposed increase in funding for special education.
  5. Remember, it is in our interest to largely support the governor’s recommendations.  Let’s not negotiate with ourselves.  We need to stay together as a political organization, and as K-12 advocates.

For your convenience, I have provided links to the Senate Directory, the Assembly Directory and Who Are My Legislators.

Thanks for listening, and for all your efforts on behalf of the kid’s you serve.

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Governor Evers Budget Address

By John Forester | March 1, 2019

Check out the text of Governor Evers’ State Budget Address.

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Budget in Brief K-12 Education Highlights

By John Forester | March 1, 2019

K-12 education highlights from the Budget in Brief begin on p. 11.  Check it out.

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SAA News Release

By John Forester | March 1, 2019

The SAA issued this news release this morning regarding the introduction of the governor’s executive budget.

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Budget News Coverage

By John Forester | March 1, 2019

Check out some of the news coverage on Governor Evers state budget proposal and the Republican response to it.

Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin State Journal

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Understanding the State Budget Process

By John Forester | February 27, 2019

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) has just issued a brief overview of the State Budget Process that SAA members may wish to share with boards of education and constituent groups in your districts.  Check it out here.

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